New clause 20 - Amendment of traffic signs regulations and general directions 2002

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 3rd February 2005.

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'(1) The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (S1/2002/3113) are amended as follows.

(2) In paragraph 4, after the definition of ''excursion or tour'', there is inserted—

''fixed speed camera'' means a camera of a type approved by the Secretary of State that is situated at a fixed site and that operates continuously or from time to time for the purpose of monitoring the speed of road vehicles and securing compliance with the speed limit in force at that site.

(3) After paragraph 58 there is inserted—''59. E

''59 very fixed speed camera shall—

(a) be adequately illuminated during the hours of darkness and

(b) have affixed to it a clearly visible indication of the applicable speed limit.''.'.—[Mr. Chope]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is important, because it would ensure that what the Government say is happening did happen, because people could not be convicted of speeding offences detected by cameras that did not comply with the Government's rules on conspicuity and visibility. It goes further, reflecting the concerns of many people that it would be much easier if the cameras identified the prevailing speed limit, the enforcement of which they were supposed to ensure. They would also have to be illuminated.

As one goes into the village of Chideock on the A35, there is a speed camera positioned shortly after the 40 mph limit goes down to 30 mph, but there is no street lighting. That camera is not illuminated, and because of its angle and the fact that the road is on a steep, downhill slope, it is almost invisible to motorists going along that road. It is not surprising that it has caught out an enormous number of motorists, particularly in the early hours of the morning when traffic is light. If that speed camera were illuminated, the situation would be better because its presence would be apparent, so people would reduce their speed instead of going in excess of the speed limit at that location.

A number of people have written to me over the years about the problems of the lack of conspicuity of speed cameras. I have a typical letter here from a Conservative supporter in Liverpool, expressing exasperation at the fact that on a stretch of dual   carriageway the speed limit drops from 50 to 40 mph and 130 m later there is a speed camera opposite an adjoining slip road, followed approximately 200 m later by a short, sharp slope to a hidden roundabout. There are no warning signs referring to the roundabout or to the fact that it is hidden. The gentleman received a reply from the Lancashire partnership for road safety saying that it does not have any money to put up junction warning signs. That is deplorable.

I have another letter from someone in Weymouth—another area that will soon be represented by a Conservative Member of Parliament—who made a complaint to the safety camera partnership after witnessing a child being brought off their cycle when a motorist braked unnecessarily and suddenly on catching sight of a speed camera. The camera did not meet the visibility rules as set out in the Government press release released in December 2001. [Interruption.] The Minister seems to be crying ''foul'' from a sedentary position, but as a result of that sudden braking due to the fact that the speed camera is not visible until the last minute, a motorist knocked a person off their cycle. That accident could have been avoided if the camera had been more conspicuous. We could continue with a host of other examples.

The Government's own guidelines make it clear that there should be conspicuity and high visibility of cameras, but the problem with those guidelines is that the booklet in which they appear, in which the word ''must'' appears an enormous amount, states at the beginning:

''Compliance with these rules has no bearing on the enforcement of offences detected by the use of safety cameras. Non-compliance with these rules and guidelines by a partnership, or a representative of a partnership, does not provide any mitigation of, or defence for, an alleged offence under current UK law committed by a driver or a registered keeper.''

They are absolutely useless in providing a defence for motorists who are caught out by speed cameras that have not been set up in accordance with the Government's guidelines. My new clause would put that right.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

Briefly, I have some sympathy with the new clause. I do not think that it goes far enough, but I ask the Minister to consider whether being able to see a camera will reduce speed, which is what the cameras are intended to do. I mentioned earlier that specific signs should be there to warn that there is a camera ahead.

On the question of visibility, where there is a change in speed, there is often a speed safety camera to catch people as they go from a 70 to a 40 mph speed limit. As the Minister will be aware, that happens on the A30 coming into Exeter. In all those cases, the changes should be clearly marked well in advance. I urge the Minister to consider a system where we step reductions to ensure that changes in speed limits are more clearly indicated.  

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 3rd February 2005

When debated speed camera detection devices a few days ago, the essence of the Minister's desire for them to be outlawed was that they inform the motorist which cameras are live. However, he went on to confirm that it was Government policy for cameras to be clearly visible and not hidden. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch referred to the guidance that has been issued. The essence of the new clause is to ensure that cameras are clearly visible and not hidden, with the bonus that the camera would also have to display the applicable speed limit, so that the motorist would be in no doubt. The new clause seems reasonable and completely in accordance with the Minister's policy. I therefore hope that he will accept it.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

There are two separate issues and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about both.

I want to focus first on putting the speed on cameras. I suspect that the Minister will tell us that warning signs will always be put up ahead of cameras and that routinely some distance ahead the speed limit will be indicated. Well, that is true in some cases but not in others. My research into the subject is as a motorist and not particularly scientific, but I have noticed that on roads with a speed limit other than the national speed limit—that is, 20, 30, 40 or 50 mph—I am told what the speed limit in advance of police warning signs and enforcement cameras. However, I think that I have persuaded myself that when I am on the open road, to use a good old-fashioned phrase, and the national speed limit of 60 mph applies, I am not warned of it in advance of a camera. The same appears to be the case on dual carriageways and motorways.

The Minister and the hon. Member for Teignbridge probably know the A303 better than I do, but I have reason to travel on it regularly these days. My experience is that there are cameras in a couple of places where the speed limit is 60 mph, but there is no way of knowing that other than by remembering what the national limit is.

There have been numerous occasions on which I have been minding my own business, aware of the speed limit, but all of a sudden somebody has seen a camera in front, assumed that the speed limit was 40 or 50 mph and that they had not noticed a warning sign, and whacked their brakes on, forcing a string of traffic behind them instantly to do the same thing. Therefore, if the Minister says that it is wrong to put the speed on the camera, he ought to say that he will return with a proposal for signs ahead of cameras that indicate the speed limit.

I understand why the cameras are there and I do not argue with that. However, both the sites that I have in mind are dangerous places to apply brakes. One is on a steep hill, where there is an overtaking lane going up the hill but not one going down. One is invited to overtake lorries, and many do so, but as they overtake they see the camera and slow down to 40 mph. That is dangerous for people who come up behind and are caught unawares. The sensible answer   would therefore be to put the speed on the back of the camera.

I will finish my remarks as I am conscious of the time and the fact that the Minister needs a chance to reply. I could talk about illumination, but I will leave the Minister to comment on that.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

One of the lasting testimonies to the period that the hon. Member for Christchurch spent as a Minister with responsibility for transport is the introduction of speed cameras. However, he did not introduce any rules regarding the conspicuity of those cameras. In fact, he predicted that the cameras would catch 2 million people a year with no conspicuity rules in place. It was this Government who introduced those rules. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), who was the Minister responsible for such matters at the time, insisted that cameras be conspicuous by making them yellow, which is why they are often called ''Spellar yellow''. The hon. Gentleman introduced cameras with no conspicuity rules, and now he is telling us that we are not doing enough.

The hon. Gentleman always tells us that there is too much red tape and unnecessary regulation and procedure, and yet he wants to regulate the camera partnerships to the extent that they would be too costly to run. The new clause says that a camera should be

''adequately illuminated during the hours of darkness'', and

''have affixed to it a clearly visible indication of the applicable speed limit''.

Illumination in the hours of darkness would incur considerable cost, as would all the regulation that goes with it. He claims to be the great deregulator, yet here he is, telling us that we need more regulations.

The hon. Gentleman stumped up some examples. I do not know who provided them for him, but if it was one of his researchers, he ought to sack him. I was delighted to hear that there was one Tory in Liverpool; I have not bumped into him yet, but I dare say one day I will.

The hon. Gentleman went on to describe someone driving along a road at enough of a speed that he braked when he saw the camera. He must have lost control of the vehicle, because he did not brake in a straight line, and then hit a cyclist. For goodness' sake, what speed was the motorist doing? He must have been well over the speed limit if a cyclist was allowed on that road. Does he expect us to have sympathy with that motorist? I certainly do not. I think that such motorists are outrageous, and are breaking the law. I hope that the camera caught him.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Yes, I would like to know the hon. Gentleman's defence.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am asking the Committee to have sympathy not for the motorist but for the cyclist.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I have sympathy with the cyclist, and I say that cameras will catch people who speed   unnecessarily. That is why we have camera partnerships.

There are still some cameras from the hon. Gentleman's ministerial regime that do not need to be conspicuous or signed. However, I challenge him again to say whether he knows of any cameras under our partnership scheme, falling under our new ruling about conspicuity, that are not properly signed. If he knows any, will he let us know? I would certainly look into it. That challenge is now 14 months old. As yet, he has come up with zero out of 4,500 to 5,000 cameras; I have not any brought before me. The new clause would introduce too much red tape, it is totally unnecessary, and I ask the Committee to resist it.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Well, it is rich indeed for the Minister to talk about too much red tape as a defence against this reasonable new clause. I am not embarrassed about having introduced the legislation that enables us to have enforcement cameras. As I have said, they are most successful at traffic lights, where there is no requirement for conspicuity, because there could be no possible excuse or mitigation for anyone going through a red light. The Minister's Government have amended the legislation and there are an increasing number of cameras, making them not so much speed cameras as ''greed cameras''. If they are meant to identify accident blackspots, it is important that they be illuminated. What possible reason can there be for not illuminating them? That is the point made in the new clause.

There is no point commanding the safety camera partnerships to comply with the conspicuity and signing rules laid down by the Government without having a sanction. If the sanction proposed in the new clause were accepted, there would be no cases of non-compliance, because the camera safety partnerships would realise that they would be unable to get any convictions.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is such a good idea, why did he not introduce it?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister asks why, if I think conspicuity rules are such a good idea, I did not introduce them. I had not realised that it would be necessary to introduce them, because I assumed that common sense would dictate that those cameras would be properly illuminated. My feeling was that the highways authorities would behave responsibly and sensibly, but I am afraid that that has not been the case in practice a number of times. They have not behaved sensibly because they are unduly motivated by greed and the incentive that the Government have given them under the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If one is fair to the Minister, one could say that he has given the Committee a small reason—the cost—why paragraph (a) should not be accepted, but does my hon. Friend agree that he has given no reason whatever why paragraph (b) should not be implemented? The cameras need to be regularly maintained; surely it will be of minimal cost to fix a speed limit sign on the back so that motorists are clearly aware of the speed at which they should be travelling.  

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I do not concede that the Minister has dealt with the first paragraph; he has certainly made no attempt to answer the second. The issue is generating an enormous amount of angst among the motoring public. If we were to pass the new clause, the Committee would send out a clear message that, whatever parts of the Government think, we do not want to continue the war against the motorist.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.

Division number 16 Nimrod Review — Statement — New clause 20 - Amendment of traffic signs regulations and general directions 2002

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Chope, Mr. ChristopherKnight, Mr. Greg

Wilshire, Mr. David

NOES

Atkins, CharlotteByrne, Mr. LiamJamieson, Mr. DavidKidney, Mr. DavidMahmood, Mr. Khalid

Merron, GillianStinchcombe, Mr. PaulThurso, JohnYounger-Ross, Richard

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

On a point of order, Mr. Pike. We are not allowed to say anything in this Committee beyond half-past 5 because of the strictures of the programme motion. However, before half-past 5, on behalf of the Opposition—and, I am sure, on behalf of all members of the Committee—may I thank you and your colleague, Mr. Hughes, for the way in which you have deliberated over our proceedings? Through your lightness of touch, we have been able to consider most of the issues in a most effective way.

I would also like to thank the usual people who are never normally praised in public. I would like to praise the police, the Hansard reporters, the Badge Messengers and other members of the Committee. I am very grateful to the Minister. He had a short nap   this afternoon, but he was entitled to it; his colleague was speaking at the time.

I should also like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins), who has been gaining a lot more experience since her days in Wandsworth, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and others whose participation has made this an enjoyable and productive Committee.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. I associate myself totally with those remarks and thank you and Mr. Hughes for having presided over us with such care and diligence. I thank my colleagues and my fellow Minister for their support, and those on the Opposition Benches for their good work. I appreciate that it is often more difficult to be in opposition when considering Bills, because Opposition Members do not have an army of people telling them that one will have to write to Members because they do not have the answer. I also thank the officials and all those from the House authorities, who have worked extremely hard, for their contribution to this Bill, which has, largely, inspired consensus among the parties.

It being half-past Five o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order 83D and the Order of the Committee [20 January 2005], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Amendment made: No. 51, in title, line 2, leave out 'motorway' and insert 'trunk road'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at half-past Five o'clock.